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Freespace at Taikoo Place: Tim Crouch and His Malvolio

12 Oct 2017

By Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt 

Tim Crouch is not afraid to face the mob. Articulate and outgoing, the British-born performer brings I, Malvolio to Freespace at Taikoo Place in October. In the laugh-out-loud, eccentric and off-the-wall play, Crouch’s Malvolio takes on the audience (or, the “mob”) at ArtisTree, through a narrative of comedic cruelty and disparaging remarks. The performance sees Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night reimagined through the eyes of Malvolio, the play’s cantankerous and curmudgeonly old steward. Here, Crouch tells us what to expect from him and his alter ego.

“Malvolio is a theatre-hating, pleasure-hating, bigoted puritan,” says Crouch, who is also the writer and sole performer of the piece. Critical, disciplinarian, self-deprecating (yet righteous), Malvolio may not be typically likeable, but he manages to draw in the audience in with his acerbic energy and clown-like absurdity. 

“I’d always felt Malvolio’s story wasn't finished,” Crouch says. “His last line in Twelfth Night is ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you’ but Shakespeare never writes his revenge. I wanted to give him his vengeance, which I think he desperately needs.”

I, Malvolio is part of a wider series that Crouch has created to retell Shakespeare through “underdog” characters, including I, Caliban, I, Peasblossom and I, Banquo, first commissioned by the Brighton Festival, UK. Having performed I, Malvolio over 200 times worldwide, Crouch stresses that as a character, Malvolio is “very close to me; like an old glove, or a well-worn slipper.” The production continues to evolve over the years despite being based on a published script; the true essence of the production, in fact, is the interaction between the audience and protagonist. 

“The pleasure with the show is that Malvolio is a character pitted against the audience,” Crouch says. Malvolio berates the audience constantly – why would anyone want to go to the theatre?! – and Crouch uses this interaction to create a vibrant and energetic audience-versus-performer dialogue. 

“In a way, Malvolio is presented as a teacher confronting a rowdy and unruly class. He and the audience play a game together,” Crouch says. “Someone once described the show as a 70-minute reverse heckle.”

“There’s a big action moment in the middle of play, which happens differently every time,” he continues. “Different audiences respond in different ways. My skill is to read an audience and respond to their reply.” 

So, don’t call this a “one-man” production: “Really, the audience plays the ‘second’ character; I don’t feel like it’s a solo show.” 

the audience plays the ‘second’ character; I don’t feel like it’s a solo show

The narrative is far from Shakespeare’sTwelfth Night – a romantic comedy first performed in 1602 – but the audience will leave with a loose understanding of the Bard’s original plot. This is interspersed with metatheatrical and more contemporary moments; for example, Malvolio enlists the audience’s help to commit suicide and walks around with a “kick me” sign on his back.

Yet it’s these elements that give the play its depth and irony. Unlike your typical stage show, “[The play] explores questions like, why do we go to the theatre? How do we get our kicks?” Crouch says. “I wanted to create a piece that can be watched and understood by anyone, but that also challenges the idea of what performance is.”

Originally written for teenagers, I, Malvolio quickly gained popularity with adult audiences around the globe.  

“I think Hong Kong is the most exciting and energetic of cities,” Crouch says of bringing the show to Freespace at Taikoo Place. And he’s ready: “I know my raw material, I am my raw material.”

“Malvolio refuses to disappear,” Crouch continues. “My brain goes to a place of new energy with him, he travels in my suitcase and he’s always surprising me.”

The question is, Hong Kong – are you ready for Malvolio? 

I, Malvolio by Tim Crouch
28-29 October at ArtisTree, Taikoo Place
See the programme schedule for more details; tickets available at Ticketflap

Follow @artistreehk on Instagram for all the #FreespaceatTaikooPlace action

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